The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the word 'evangelism' is Jesus sending His followers out to be fishers of men in Matthew 4:19. We could conclude that when Jesus says this it means Christians should go out and convert people. But this analogy means so much more than that; a bringing of people from one community into another, from one realm into another realm. Fishers of men does not mean 'get people to meetings', or 'get people to sign here.' It means bringing people into a new relationship - to taste what heaven will be like here on earth. This is ultimately not about numbers, but about people.
One of the ways we can evangelise our cities is through the long, hard and yet intimate friendships we have with those who do not yet know God. It is through friendships that we will see people set free and brought into the truth. Friendships are a powerful yet simple way to evangelise, and if ever the world has needed true and honest friendships it's now.
What must be made clear of course is what I mean when I say friendship, we're in an era that has largely forgotten what depth and significance friendships can hold – and would even roll their eyes at the thought. What I don't mean is mere friendliness or politeness, turning a blind eye to problems or issues in each other's lives. Proverbs 27:6 establishes this point well, which explains that the friend who rebukes in love is more faithful than a flatterer. Friends do not dodge areas of difference, they seek to understand one another facing misunderstanding and grief on the way. But it's this kind of weathering that proves how strong companionship can be, and what a doorway it is for evangelism.
Whereas many in the world would use friends for their own means, Christians are called to lay their life down for them. The friendship we are called to offer this world is radically life changing, so how do we go about using our friendships to evangelise?
Listen to Them
Why would it be important in the journey of evangelism to listen to friends? Surely what we want to do is just talk about Jesus to them. I think a key aspect of opening doors of discussion with friends about God is through listening to how they understand the world, how they make sense of reality, and their personal experiences. Gradually, as we listen more and seek to understand our friends we will begin to know the words that will be truly beneficial to say to them. We will speak in a way that gets to their heart, because our words will be answering their own situation and reasoning.
To listen is a humbling discipline. Proverbs 11:12 discusses how a friend who aims to belittle lacks sense, but a friend who is wise in understanding remains silent. This is extremely important to remember in the journey of evangelism, because there will be many times in discussion where disagreements or heated debates arise. It is easy in those moments to say things that hurt rather than heal, divide rather than unite or confuse rather than bring clarity.
A true friend seeks wisdom in their words, and that means knowing how to listen and be silent. Our aim in doing so is to see the world from their eyes, to search and understand them from a place of peace and love rather than agitation or frustration. This does not mean, of course, to remain silent in discussions that need an answer or response. What I'm trying to get at is that we put our friend at the forefront of our respect, rather than our pride.
Fast for Them
Fasting leads to spiritual breakthrough. That statement cannot be overstated. Fasting is crucial and integral to our walk with God and evangelism for others.
Matthew 6:17-18 says that the Father, who is unseen and sees what is done in secret, will reward you in your times of fast. This is not about performance and merit, this is always about relationship – God hears and loves to give. Fasting is a sacrifice that leads to much more steadfast and powerful prayer, and what a privilege it is to be able to come to the Father and pray in such a powerful way for something other than ourselves – our friend's salvation.
I have fasted for friends in order to pray for opportunities to tell them more about Jesus. One time, within an hour after breaking that fast the friend who I was fasting for rang me up to ask me questions about my faith, something totally out of the blue. During that day of fasting I was saying to God how much this person means to me, and therefore how aboundingly more that person means to Him. Through fasting I was making it clear to God, but more importantly clearer to myself, how serious I was about this person's salvation and how much I longed to see them worship their true Creator and Father.
I am convinced that a major chunk of our life evangelising must involve prayer and fasting – in fact it's the spine to evangelistic work. To avoid this assumes we can evangelise without the major involvement and power of God.
We must have the mentality that the sacrifice made on our behalf is worth our friend's gain of finding Jesus.
Reveal the Ultimate Friend
It is unavoidable – if your soul is pursuing Jesus then your friends are going to notice. Your friendship with non-believers will constantly be giving them insights into your friendship with God, our true and ultimate Friend. How we care for and give to our friends in time and energy is daily testimony to the care and blessing we've received in our friendship with Christ.
So what kind of friendship has Christ shown us? Indescribable sacrifice and unconditional love. John 15:13 declares just that: 'There is no greater love than to lay one's life down for one's friends.' Jesus made the unspeakable effort to make His friendship with creation possible. That is how we are to evangelise to our friends, to continuously lay ourselves down for them.
Evangelism in our friendships partly consists of them looking into your relationship with God and seeing as an outsider what it means to be in relationship with the Creator. When a friend who trusts you peers into the way you commune unashamedly with God, conversations are inevitably sparked.
By saying this I don’t want to push aside the importance of what we say in love, not just what we do in love, that reveals more of the ultimate Friend. Let's go back to Proverbs 27:5-6. It says that the wounds caused by a true friend can be trusted, but the kisses and flattery of an enemy are deceitful. Sometimes it hurts to hear the gospel when you don't understand it, it requires you to admit you're wrong and that God had to come to you in order to save you. This is why many people cannot fathom accepting Christ into their lives, it would mean they would no longer be on the throne of their heart.
But the words of the gospel are pangs of pain in order to heal. It can be very easy throughout our friendships to not bring up Christ, who He is and what He did, because it is offensive to their pride and comfort. But Proverbs says that a true friend's words will inevitably feel like wounds in certain situations. A true friend doesn't want to flatter in order to maintain peace, but rather sees the possibility of conflict worth the risk if it may cause the enlightenment of the heart.
Our words must always be pointing to our Friend in Jesus, and thus should only ever come from a place of love. That is the filter through which we speak when we evangelise.